On November 9, 2005 a Belgian woman in her late 30’s – Liliane Degauque –entered history as the first European woman to blow herself up in Iraq. Countless more from Europe, Asia or Africa have and will follow in Iraq and elsewhere, including in the heart of the Old continent.
If Liliane Degauque launched an attack against a military target, many followers are simply pulling the trigger amongst random civilians. Regardless of their age, gender or social class, some people decide to meet their creator taking along as many lives as possible. Are they criminals suffering from personality disorders as some suggest, or are they devout believers offering the ultimate sacrifice for their faith?
Self-sacrificing zealots: an enduring phenomenon across the ages
Most civilisations and religions have resorted to animal – and sometimes human – sacrifice as an expiatory tradition to appease or please God (-s). Many believers consciously inflict pain upon themselves to test their faith, to showcase the strength of their convictions or to reach a higher level of consciousness. For instance, the mortification of the flesh for Christians is at times translated into flagellation, in imitation of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Islam, Shiites remember the killing of imam Huseyn in Karbala during Ashura celebrations. Similarly, they beat themselves with chains and swords to express their guilt for this killing that marks the division between Shia and Sunni obedience.
These practices often track their roots in the Scriptures, such as when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Although Abraham accepted, God sent Gabriel who ordered Abraham not to do so. For Christians, the sacrificial lamb refers to Jesus’ sacrifice, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). Equally, Muslims sacrifice mutton during Eid al-Adha. In essence, Isaac’s sacrifice epitomises the moment when faith and devotion was put to its ultimate test.
Suicide attacks in the animal world
The tactic of suicide is not unknown to the animal world. Ants and termites resort to autothysis (self-sacrifice or altruistic suicide) to repel attackers. In the extremely organised eusocial ant colony, obedient workers, soldiers and male drones are programmed to serve their queen and achieve their tasks without questioning. The Malaysian ant, more specifically, has developed a unique system to defend its colony. Ant warriors have a unique gland on which they can exert internal pressure until it explodes. When an enemy draws near, the ant runs towards him, triggers the internal explosion killing itself and releasing a poison that, in turn, neutralises the assailant.
The defence strategy of some soldier termites is similar. Shall an enemy try to enter the tunnels, termites will blow themselves up.
The main defence objective of those self-organised societies is to preserve their highly regulated society.
What we witness today is far from the termites’ defence mechanism, one that is designed to protect its group. The termites never sought to change others and impose their way of life. On the contrary, human suicide killers launch planned attacks that are carried out after infiltrating a refugee camp or a tourist spot. These suicide attacks do not happen to prevent an enemy from entering, but are carried out against unknown people who simply happen to be at a particular place at a particular moment. To justify such atrocities, the border between attack and defence is blurred. Attacks are presented as acts of defence for survival against the evil or the enemy whose mere existence is a threat that must be annihilated everywhere. For supporters of faith-based suicide attacks, the concept of evil-enemy expands to anyone who is different (aka “all others”).
Abraham’s sacrifice or the self-inflicted pain by believers is also very different and bears no resemblance to the suicide attacks targeting innocent people. For individual believers, mortification of their own flesh is a voluntary act. By no means, has it been imposed by armed groups commanders or clerics. God has two hands: one to forgive and one to punish. Those calling for suicide bombing only refer to the use of the latter. And polytheisms, considered now as a vestige of by-gone eras, were the first victims of religious radicalism. Today’s religious extremists call upon God’s wrath to turn their violence against all those who veered even slightly from strict observance of their credo. This explains why intra-ISIL punishment is regularly practised.
At the polar opposite, God’s first hand is to forgive, to understand and show compassion. This non-violent hand does not enjoy much popularity in radical rhetoric stemming from very binary views.
An inferno circle: from indoctrination to suicide attacks
To attract new potential radicals, recruiters invite them to believe that they are different and have been elected for a holy mission. Recruiters easily anticipate the negative reaction of the close friends of a person on the path of radicalisation. At an early stage, not to antagonise the young recruit from their circle, recruiters will drive a wedge between the candidates and their inner circle, by claiming the candidate has see the “light”, whilst others remain in the dark and lack the faith to access higher levels of religious consciousness. ISIL has gone one step further with its online recruitment form, asking whether candidates were ready to kill their own “infidel” relatives. Gradually, young recruits accept the fact that their commitment is in the best interest of a cause higher than family ties. The inferno circle starts when candidates for suicide bombing gradually change their perspective and adhere to revisionist interpretations of God’s command. Acts, such as killing themselves and fellow human beings, acquire alternative meaning and are now an acceptable means to achieve ones’ end. Suicide bombers, convinced about the importance, the meaning and the honour of their holy mission, embrace the (ir-) rationality of their act. Human laws and codes that condemn such acts are now part of the very world they must destroy. Therefore, any effort to deter a suicide bomber not to act, merely reinforces his/her conviction about the need to end the unholy world so that a better one will emerge. Suicide bombers see themselves as the frontrunners of the necessary apocalypse to overturn the chaos and the moral corruption dominating today’s world.
There are today little signs that faith-based suicide attacks are fading away, especially with fighters returning to Europe. Calls for suicide attacks, random stabbing, vehicle-borne attacks or derailing trains are increasing. There is a plethora of individual stories that tells of fast-track induction of recruits who made the turn from sinner to radical convert. What will happen with those kids who have been taught during ISIL-run mathematics classes that one suicide bomber plus one suicide bomber equals two mass casualties?
Regardless of who they are, suicide bombers leave behind thousands of people in pain in what resembles a modern-day Massacre of Innocents. RIP.
Political Scientist: Taliban Rule will lead to terrorism activation in Pakistan
The strengthening of terrorist activity in the northwest of Pakistan and the country as a whole is linked with reinforcing the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan. Since they have established absolute power in Afghanistan, implicitly or not, they support the Pakistani Taliban. Although these are different organizations, they definitely have a common genesis, ties and contacts, but they deny this. However, we understand that the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are at least allies. This is how a political scientist, Ph.D., associate professor Georgi Asatryan commented on the latest developments around the situation in Afghanistan and the activity of the Taliban.
“There was another explosion in Peshawar; unfortunately, this can be predicted to occur again. Now we witness a particular conflict between the Pakistani and Afghan authorities represented by the Taliban. Pakistan, represented by the Minister of Defense and other high-ranking officials, blames the Afghan authorities for these attacks, arguing that the Taliban Kabul is supporting the Pakistani Taliban, and the Taliban, in turn, deny this. Therefore, this conflict between the two South Asian countries will boost and worsen”, said political scientist Georgi Asatryan.
The administration of the Pakistani Taliban has announced that it is lost the armistice. It happened in November. The Pakistani Taliban announced that they were withdrawing from the armistice with Pakistan and called on their supporters to launch attacks on targets in Pakistan. It should be mentioned that the situation will worsen and destabilize as long as the Taliban run in Afghanistan and supports its Pakistani allies.
To a certain extent, we witness how the method of the Pakistani military to support the Afghan Taliban leads to harmful and dangerous outcomes for them. The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan would be impossible, or quite complicated, without the total assistance, consultations and, to a certain extent, the participation of the Pakistani military. Now we see a growth of terrorist networks in the region. The policy of strategic depth leads to troubles and threats for Pakistan itself.
The country’s ruling parties received a warning from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that “concrete actions” aimed at their leadership would be carried out in reaction to the statement of war against them. In this statement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were named in the TPP message. In addition, the statement contains a warning to the religious political parties of Pakistan. They are urged not to participate in activities directed against the TPP. “TTP’s policy does not include targeting your parties, but we ask you to avoid engaging in any activity against us,” it says. The TPP danger came two days after the National Security Committee of Pakistan announced its decision to combat organizations related to violence and terrorism.
According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan is confronting an attack again. Analysts express that as the country enters into an election year, the leadership of Pakistan should develop a strategy to counter the threat to internal security. At least nine attacks occurred in the southwestern province of Balochistan last Sunday, killing six employees of security services. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistani Taliban due to its close ideology to the Afghan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for these attacks.
Countering Terrorism: 2023 and Beyond
Pakistan has carried three significant issues from 2022 into 2023. These include political instability, a dwindling economy and resurging terrorism. With respect to terrorism, Afghanistan has assumed centre stage. Following the withdrawal of US forces on 15 Aug 2021, there was initial jubilation in Pakistan over Taliban’s triumph. It stemmed from the perception that US military presence in the region and drone strikes were the leading sources of regional instability.
2022 ended for Pakistan with an upsurge in terrorist activities and accordingly the New Year started with a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC). The press release following the meeting reiterated NSC’s resolve to ‘have zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan and reaffirmed its determination to take ‘on any and all entities that resort to violence.’ This is a welcome decision by the government and state organs.
Pakistan’s counterterrorism (CT) efforts gained momentum following the unprecedented Army Public School (APS) massacre of 2014. Some have compared it to Pakistan’s 9/11. The tragedy was relatable to all of Pakistan regardless of the so-called ethnic, regional or sectarian divides. The inhumane attacks brought the civil and military leadership together in assigning this scourge of terrorism the priority that it deserved. The most prominent outcome was a National Action Plan on countering terrorism that enjoyed broadest possible political support.
Subsequently, the united stance against terrorism enabled unprecedented successes in rooting out terrorism. However, it appears that the reduction in terrorist activities led to a sense of complacency which was further aided by growing political polarisation that had more to do with differences on domestic, economic and foreign policy issues. Unfortunately, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan occurred at a time when Pakistan was struggling with internal politics. Apparently, the eventual prevalence of Afghan Taliban against a super power that they had been resisting for two decades, emboldened the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to think that it could similarly attrite the Pakistani nation and its state organs.
TTP’s motivation seems to be misplaced for primarily three reasons. First and foremost, the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of Pakistan are fighting this war to provide a safe and secure environment to the future generations of the country – including their own children; unlike the US and coalition forces that neither had a clear objective nor a consistent policy to follow. Second, much of Afghan Taliban’s acceptance at the domestic level was based on the fact that they were fighting a foreign occupant – which is not the case for TTP. Thirdly, the Afghan Taliban assumed power by virtue of force rather than the will of the public and that is why they struggle to gain legitimacy at home and abroad.
Pakistani political leadership might differ on the possible approaches to dealing with this issue, but there certainly is no appetite for letting the TTP and associated factions consolidate power to a degree that they are able to challenge state’s writ at a level comparable to yesteryears. However, display of a united front by the various ruling parties at the Centre and provinces will help demonstrate that there will be no tolerance for terrorist activities no matter which political party assumes power.
TTP’s threat against the leadership of two ruling parties is an attempt to exploit the current domestic political divide. Political mudslinging on this issue only helps the enemy’s cause. The ongoing struggle for power between the political parties should not enable TTP to consolidate power in the interim period. Otherwise, it will become a greater threat for the next government to deal with. During the previous election years, terrorist outfits were successful in targeting the leadership of various political parties during their election campaigns and arguably changing the election outcomes by terrorising the electorate. It is in shared interest of all the political parties to avoid a repeat of such a scenario.
While the politico-military leadership establishes a united front at home, it will be important to deny external actors the ability to exploit Pakistan’s internal situation. Pakistan has been at the receiving end of accusations even as it presents irrefutable evidence of external involvement in terrorist activities inside the country. As Pakistan continues to expose foreign involvement, it ought to simultaneously deny foreign actors fertile ground to exploit at home. Previously, the foreign threat was limited to the Eastern front but now it has expanded at an unprecedented level to the Western front where the Taliban government is either complicit or unable to check use of its territory to launch terrorist attacks against Pakistan.
2023 is likely going to be the year of General Elections in Pakistan. Whichever party assumes power, it is important that it looks at counterterrorism as a long-term operation that will require broader political support, less in-fighting and an ability to stay the course impervious of temporary gains and setbacks which will inevitably be a part of the process.
A Rift Getting Deeper: TTP and IEA parting their ways?
A few days ago, an alleged audio of Tahreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief, Noor Wali Mehsud has caught the attention of those who keep a close eye on terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, especially Tahreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Through this audio, Noor Wali has sent a message, to TTP fighters to pick up arms against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) after its search operation in provinces along the Pak-Afghan border. Since the takeover of Kabul, some security analysts had predicted the possible collaboration of IEA with TTP. Still, the evolution of TTP strategies and its ideological shift from being a branch of IEA to being an opponent of IEA was observed. Only those who have kept a sharp eye on TTP activities know that TTP is now a threat to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The reason behind the shift in TTP’s strategies:
What compelled TTP to give such a big statement? This question comes to everyone’s mind, the below discussion is made in context to this question. The ideological standing of both TTP and IEA is far different. Afghan Taliban are ethnic nationals. They have only fought a war against foreign forces for Afghan territory and have never claimed any region beyond the borders of Afghanistan. However, TTP has long taken inspiration from Al-Qaeda, which has expansionist objectives and deadly takfiri ideology to create a falsified identity of believers and non-believers, only to legitimize its terror activities in the name of Islam. Hence, following the footprints of such a radical organization, there is a significant possibility that TTP will join hands with ISKP against IEA.
Question of natural and forced alliance:
Since the Kabul takeover, TTP has tried to align with IEA, thus, giving it the camouflage of a natural alliance. TTP’s leadership also manifested this narrative in its statements and activities. But the ideological drift and conflicting objectives show that TTP’s so-called alignment with IEA was one-sided and enforced. After the Kabul takeover, TTP tried its well to be a part of IEA but by rigid stance, IEA always cleared in their statement that TTP and IEA are two different groups, having different inspirations and goals.
Pakistan’s role that TTP in using Afghan soil:
Pakistan has been fighting TTP since 2003. In April 2022, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) struck the hideouts of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan along the Durand Line. This strike highlighted that a group within IEA was keen on providing safe havens to TTP. Hence, diplomatic pressure was mounted on IEA to eradicate TTP from the strategic provinces of Kunar and Khost.
Chance of Mutual tussle between TTP and IEA:
Is there another conflict going to happen in the region? Now, the battle is the same, but the opponents are different. The so-called narrative that claims IEA and TTP were on the same table is wrecking after TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud and IEA spoke’s person Zabiullah Mujahid’s statements.” They are not, as an organization, part of IEA, and we don’t share the same objectives,” Zabiullah Mujahid said in reaction to TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud’s claims of being a part of the IEA. Now, the TTP chief has alerted his fighters for war. It would create complexities in the region. IEA acted as a mediator between the government of Pakistan and TTP to make peace in the region. Additionally, Zabiullah mujahid also mentioned that We advise TTP to focus on peace and stability in their country. This is very important so, they can prevent any chance for enemies to interfere in the region, and we request Pakistan to investigate their demands for the better of the region and Pakistan.
Mujahid added that the TTP was Pakistan’s internal matter “The IEA stance is that we do not interfere in other countries affairs. We do not interfere in Pakistan’s affairs.”
After this emerging rift, would it be possible for IEA to counter TTP? IEA is struggling to stabilize the state after Kabul take over. Nowadays, Afghanistan’s security and economy are on the verge of chaos. It would not be able to engage in other conflicts nor do they have the power to do so. And if they engaged in battle with TTP, an alliance of ISKP and TTP can hurt Afghanistan. But if they counter them, there is a chance to get international sympathy and maybe recognition because it will endorse the Doha agreement, as Recognition has become a dire need in Afghanistan.
In a nutshell, it won’t be inappropriate to assume that another war will break out, and it is likely more drastic than the last ones. Despite all the hurdles, it is an opportunity for IEA to gain global sympathy for its recognition and to legitimize its regime. If the IEA becomes successful in convincing the world by taking action against terrorist outfits and extremism in its ranks, it will not only pave the way for its recognition but also meet with the minutes of the DOHA Accord to not allow any violent non-state actor to operate within Afghan territory.
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